Reprinted from the September issue of Cedar Valley Business Monthly.
WATERLOO — On a recent summer day, Tom Hart walked through the halls of the Tyson Foods plant in Waterloo, greeting employees as he passed.
A Waterloo native, Hart is now the plant manager at the complex in his hometown after years of working in the business.
“It’s all about support,” Hart said, “If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be here today.”
During his early education, Hart attended Central Middle School and West High School, working several part-time jobs through the years, including delivering newspapers and at Wendy’s fast food restaurant.
After high school in 1991, Hart was working at a gas station when he heard of an employment opportunity as an overnight contracted sanitation worker at Tyson Prepared Foods, then located inside the IBP Inc. plant. That position began his journey to plant manager.
Traveling with the cleaning contractor, Hart worked at several facilities before settling at a Tyson plant in Luverne, Minn. Tyson eventually brought the contractor in-house, and after filling the shoes of sanitation supervisor, Hart worked in Minnesota from 1994 to 1997. But after three years, Hart missed his hometown.
“I was homesick (and) wanted to get back to Waterloo,” Hart said.
In 1997, Hart moved home, taking on the position of operations supervisor at the Waterloo plant.
Throughout the years he’s moved through several positions within the company, including general supervisor, superintendent, night manager and, since 2014, plant manager.
Assistant Human Resource Manager Terri Rottinghaus said Hart’s non-traditional career path makes him a perfect fit for the position.
“It makes him a fantastic plant manager because he understands the entire process from the ground up,” Rottinghaus said.
Tyson Fresh Meats facility in Waterloo employs around 2,800 people who represent 48 different countries.
As plant manager, Hart, 46, works with 140 managers to ensure a safe work environment for employees and appropriate treatment of animals in the supply chain, producing a safe, quality product for consumers.
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Hart said a day’s work boils down to ensuring continuous improvement in those areas.
“That is a big part of what I bring to my leadership team and our team members each day,” Hart said.
A highlight of his job is watching the progression of employees as they grow and build careers for themselves.
“We have some of the greatest people out there,” Hart said. “They want to be the best at what they do; but that’s where we come in by letting them know what good is, in detail.”
Crediting his success to his own supervisors, Hart said leaders at Tyson helped prepare him throughout each step of his career.
“Every advancement opportunity to me felt like a big step,” Hart said. “The leaders that I’ve worked for, they’ve always done a good job of preparing a person.”
In the early 1930s, John W. Tyson began delivering chickens to markets around the Midwest. Today, Tyson Foods employs 120,000 workers nationwide.
In 2001, the IBP building in Waterloo was by acquired Tyson Foods, where the fresh meats and prepared food plants operate today.
As plant manager, Hart takes the time during orientations to educate new employees on the many opportunities he’s experienced within Tyson Foods.
“If you’ve got good core values and put in the work and learn as much as you can, the doors of opportunity just open,” Hart said.
Through investing in employees, Hart lays the groundwork for the company’s future, striving to improve Tyson by equipping employees with the needed information to keep business running smoothly.
“What can we learn from yesterday to make tomorrow better?” Hart said.
A challenge can be disseminating that information to employees clearly, ensuring they have the tools to meet company expectations.
“(Our team members) want to be the best at what they do, and it is our job as managers to make sure they have the detailed knowledge to do so,” Hart said.
Hart commends the opportunities Tyson Foods provides for employment, with his own journey as a testament.
“He’s a great example of what hard work can do for someone, maybe when college isn’t right for you,” Rottinghaus said.